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MailTribune.com
  • Road test

    Safe-driving programs gives students a chance to see things differently
  • After several NASCAR-worthy skids across the pavement, Cascade Christian High School sophomore Katelyn Stephens stepped from the Ford Mustang and walked away with a neatly cleaved traffic cone she had just run over in her fist.
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      To see some of the action at the Ford Driving Skills For Life event, head to www.mailtribune.com/video.
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      Video online
      To see some of the action at the Ford Driving Skills For Life event, head to www.mailtribune.com/video.
  • After several NASCAR-worthy skids across the pavement, Cascade Christian High School sophomore Katelyn Stephens stepped from the Ford Mustang and walked away with a neatly cleaved traffic cone she had just run over in her fist.
    "(That) was really fun," Katelyn said, laughing. "My cousin has a Mustang, and now I know how much fun he has."
    Katelyn joined 72 other Cascade Christian students Wednesday in the Ford Motor Co.'s Driving Skills For Life safety event, a touring program established in 2003 to teach just-licensed teenagers hands-on skills for better driving.
    Company officials say an average 3,000 drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 are killed nationwide each year in car crashes.
    In Oregon in 2009, 45 drivers ages 16 to 20 were killed in traffic crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.
    "It is the No. 1 cause of death in teens in the U.S.," said instructor Mike Speck, a former professional race car driver who raced in the Grand Am series off and on from 1999 to 2007.
    "I realize that my kids are going to be driving soon. I've learned quickly, through Ford, just how dangerous it is when teens are on the road and how we can positively affect them."
    Speck has been with the program since its inception. He and a handful of other professional driving instructors and racers will travel around Oregon and Washington until April.
    The team will visit Eagle Point High School today.
    At Cascade Christian, officials set up three stations in the school's parking lot, and three-student groups visited each one throughout the day.
    At one station, students tried to navigate through cones while they sent text messages on their phone.
    At another, they donned special goggles intended to simulate the view of an intoxicated driver, underwent tests police use to tell whether a driver is intoxicated, then drove through another test course.
    "They changed it up a lot," said 18-year-old senior Jordan Hamasu.
    Students unleashed their inner race car driver on the final station. They got behind the wheel of a Mustang with lifted rear wheels — to decrease traction — and tried to regain control during skids.
    Several students said it was an eye-opener.
    "You don't normally get to experience these conditions under controlled elements," said Anna Murphy, 18. "It's a really good learning experience."
    On-site law enforcement said these types of hands-on events are helpful.
    "Drinking and driving, texting and driving, anything distracting can get them in a lot of trouble," said Chris Bryant, Medford police school resource officer at McLoughlin Middle School. "You can tell them all you want, and they won't listen to you. But if you get out here and they can actually see it firsthand, it really helps."
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com
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